It was surreal, floating down towards the ground while being about as light as air filled balloons, surreal and terrifying, especially for someone like me, who's afraid of heights. At least, it should have been. Yet, I felt nothing, as I look at myself from the outside, from the third person perspective, I felt the same as staring at my own character across the screen, which is to say, not very much at all.
Thought I felt very little about our landing, I was quite furious when I saw Cecilia flying off towards the forest, in an attempt to go after the Archer on her own I'll bet. Always with these reckless maneuvers of hers. I thought I said to consult me before trying something like that beforehand the last time I confronted her about this. Though, thinking back, she likely had to make her decision on the spot, seeing that we have been ambushed and that I have been shot. Even so, I wished she'd cut back on that recklessness of hers. It's not good for my heart, and there's a hole in it as it is so I rather she not make it worse.
While landing, Michaela has been casting [Greater Heal] on me nonstop, replenishing my Hp even as they deplete. It was only after we landed, when the Clerics came to join her, did the healing outpaces the damage caused by bleeding, but of course, in order to fully heal me, they had to pull the arrow out, which agitated the bleeding and caused me to go into shock, something I was rather surprised didn't happen earlier. I suppose this body is stronger than I gave it credit for. Before I blacked out, or rather, the body blacked out, however, I was able to summon Frederica, who I have positioned in front of the Clerics for protection. I doubted that the Archer would be able to so easily penetrate her shell and it would allow the Knights to move more freely about without concern for the healers.
It really should have been bizarre, looking down on my own unconscious body, but having played video games so often, it didn't feel any particularly different from the usual affairs. The only thing different is the lack of "Game Over" or "You Died" written over the screen. Of course, it's not "Game Over" for me in actuality either. The bleeding had long stopped and the Hp bar as well had stopped decreasing. I'll be fine, probably. Being unconscious, there's not much I can do. I'll just have to leave myself in the hands of Michaela and the Clerics. Rather than myself, I'm more worried about Cecilia.
I looked over towards Michaela, who was already gazing towards me, not the one unconscious on the ground, but the phantom peering over from above. It looked like she was aware of where I am, whatever "I" meant at this point.
"Michaela, I have a plan. Pass it on to Toto and Six."
As a phantom, I spoke to her, as it appeared that I am able to communicate with her even in such a state. I suppose it's not that surprising, considering that she could do so with me even while she's not summoned or is far away.
"As you wish, my liege."
The strategy was to have Six dive into the forest to get Cecilia out. Using the smoke bombs on him, he would be able to create a smokescreen against the Archer all the while signaling his location to Toto via the rising smoke. From there, Toto and the Sorcerers will bombard the area, providing an opportunity for Six to extract Cecilia. However, knowing Cecilia, I doubted she would want to just retreat when she's close to winning, and so I had Michaela relay to Six that he is to back Cecilia up if she thinks that she has a good chance of winning. She's reckless, yes, but she's not stupid and definitely not irresponsible, not completely at least. Surely that if another person is involved, she'll have to put more thoughts into their safety as well.
At first, Six and Toto were confused, but Michaela played it off as if I had planned this out in advance. She could have just said that I'm communicating with her even while unconscious. After everything we've seen, it shouldn't be all that unbelievable. Then again, explaining what's happening to me, which I'm not all that clear on either, might take some time, and time was not something we had at the time. What's important was that they believed her and began the execution of the plan.
And so, Six set off towards the forest, taking the Knights with him as rear guard. However, upon entering the forest, he stepped onto a trap, runes, more specifically, and it was then we knew that the Archer was not working alone. Fortunately, to protect him and Cecilia from the bombardment that will occur later, Toto had casted [Frost Ward] on Six and a cloak offered up by one of the Sorcerers. The runes were fortunately fire based, dealing [Heat] based damage that was mitigated by Toto's ward.
The plan was simple, uncomfortably so, but with so much unknown elements and so little time, there's not much more I could do on the spot. The rest I leave to Cecilia's intuition and hope for the best.
Soon, smokes can be seen rising from the forest, and as the healers continued to tend to me, I watched the fire balls being flung into the air and crashing into the already burnt forest. The bombardment had been going on for a while, yet, there were still no signs of Six and Cecilia exiting the forest. Anxiety began to creep up on me the longer I waited, my mind wondering what has happened to them in places I could not see or reach. It was around this time, when it approached us from our flank. Though appearing to be a Beastkin at first sight, I couldn't help but feel that something was wrong. Her dark fur, her sinewy tail, something about them felt off, and soon, even the Knights began to pick that up.
The Knights went and attempted to halt this Beastkin's advance, but those that went to intercept it were easily knocked aside and sent into the air by the sheer strength of this dark Beastkin. Seeing the Knights fall, I realized that they were no match for this enemy and immediately sent Frederica forward while trying to scan the enemy with my [Insight], though it did not appear to work. It seems that it's a skill I can only use while the body is conscious.
With a single strike of its bare fist, I hear something crack, and though Frederica is not a creature that makes a sound, even I could feel how painful it was when I saw her collapsing on the spot. Upon disabling Frederica, the dark Beastkin leapt over the [Celestial Crab] and landed right before me, but before she got to do anything, Toto came to the defense of my unconscious body, standing in front of me and creating a [Mana Wall] to halt the dark Beastkin's advance while ordering all troops to attack. However, with but a single swing of its fist, the [Mana Wall] shattered. Quickly, Toto tried to cast another spell, something to push this enemy back, but she was not quick enough and found her own head trapped within the powerful grasp of the dark Beastkin's paw.
At the corner of my awareness, I see Six and Cecilia returning from the forest, in one piece it seems. Though I wish I get to breathe a sigh of relief, the situation occurring on this end is making that rather impossible.
Having witnessed her speed and strength, I have no doubt in my mind that this Beastkin is no doubt a Champion, or at the very least, she possesses the strength rivaling to one. With Toto in her grasp, with myself unconscious, with Frederica out of commission, and with this Bestial Champion just a few steps away from my unconscious body, I am at a loss. Do anything carelessly, and there goes Toto's head, the fact that the Bestial Champion has not yet crushed her head while being more than capable of doing so communicated that to me. In other words, this is a hostage situation, meaning that there's room for negotiation, that there's something she wants. At least, that's what I like to think. After all, she could have easily slaughtered us all in one fell swoop, I am more than sure of that. So now the question is: What does she wants?
A voice resounds in my mind. With gut feeling alone, with no indication or proof whatsoever, I turn towards the Bestial Champion before me, somehow knowing that the voice came from her. Through the visors of her helmet, I can tell, that her golden, cat-like eyes are upon the space above my unconscious body, the place from where "I" am watching. Like Michaela, she knows where "I" currently am.
"You can see me?"
As the phantom of the third person perspective, I ask her, wondering if she can hear me. In response, she nods. Then, once more, her voice starts echoing in my mind.
"Whatever you do, no matter what happens, you must, first and foremost, conquer the forest."
To conquer to forest? The [World Devourer Woods]? Indeed, due to its ability to expand, it may be best to deal with the forest first. But why? Why come so far just to tell me this?
"To the north, the Dragonbrood stirs. Soon, they will launch an all out invasion into this land."
As if reading my mind, the Bestial Champions grants me this answer. It appears that she wants me to focus on the forest rather than the Dragonbrood that will be invading in the near future.
"But how do you know they'll be coming?"
"The winds told me so."
The winds, eh? What a vague and unreliable answer.
"I'll think on it."
"Make sure you do, Champion, make sure you do."
Apparently done with her business, the Bestial Champion lets go of Toto, dropping her on the ground. She then becomes covered in magical lights, lights that I've seen before somewhere. Six and Cecilia take the chance to attack, but all of a sudden, a strong gust swirls around the Bestial Champion, causing her to float up into the air like a balloon caught in the wind. The lights she was covered in, it was the same lights from the spell [Feather Weight].
With that, the Bestial Champion disappears into the sky, leaving only the memory of her somewhat cryptic words behind.
I wake up staring at the ceiling of a tent. No longer can I see myself, my vision now fixed to my eyes. I wonder if I'll get to go into the third person perspective again, or even different kinds of views. A bird's eye view would be extremely helpful if I can achieve it.
I try getting up, my body feels somewhat sluggish but it's doing better than I thought after taking an arrow through its heart. As I move, something stirs beside me. Sometime ago, I lost consciousness for real, my vision fading away even while I was a phantom, and so I really have no idea who came and went through this tent.
It's the princess, curled up beside where I lay and just waking up after sensing my movements.
"Good morning, princess. Or rather, good evening. It's dark out isn't it?"
Her small slender arms reach out, surrounding me. Her head burying itself into my neck.
"I told you! I told you that I should have gone with you!"
Even while sobbing, she's still going on about that.
"If you went, you might have been the one with an arrow through your chest. You wouldn't have survived that."
"Better than risking you, I say!"
I understand, I know it in my head that the lives of the Champions are more important than that of a single princess', but...
"Aren't you afraid of dying? Not a single bit, princess?"
"I... I am not..."
I don't buy it. The way she hesitated, I don't think she meat what she said. To begin with, the princess has been hiding a great deal of things from me since the beginning hasn't she? I'd say that to keep things from me is just like her. Even so...
"Well, I am. I'd be sad if you died, Aurelia."
I still remember, the warmth of her arms while she embraced me while I was near death. That was the first time I encountered a [Demon]. When it attacked, I pushed the princess out of the way and got some holes put into my guts. It was so painful that I could barely move. It felt so long ago, but in truth, it should only have been but a few weeks. Even so, I remember clearly, how she held me, how she kept pouring healing magic onto me even though she could have just left me there. I suppose it's because I was a Champion, that my survival was more important. Still, she was there when I thought I would die alone. Probably, that time, I had already formed a bond with her, a one-sided bond to my summoner. Not due to any magic or ritual, but something closer to the heart.
Then, once more, she fought the Warrior Champion atop the mountain with me. Again, she was by my side when I was close to losing my life, and again, she helped me survive and win the battle. By then, I was all too ready to forgive her for everything, for summoning me here, for putting me in this mess, even though by all reasons and rationality, it hardly made up for what she had done.
Even though I knew her for only a while, and in fact, I can't say I know her all that well at all. She's important to me, at the very least, I don't want to lose her, I want to get to know her better. Silly, perhaps even juvenile, I know. But, I speak the truth when I said I'll be sad that if she were gone, that much is for sure.
"Are you sure?"
With her eyes downcast and her face away from me, she asks me.
I place my hand on her head, gently caressing her. If I had a kid or a grandkid, it'd probably feel something like this.
"Even though I was the one who dragged you and your friends into this mess of a world?"
"There'll be no mess if we take care of it right?"
"Even though I have nothing I can repay you with?"
"You can't repay anything if you're dead, can you. Unless making me sad is your idea of repaying."
"That's not true! That will never be true."
"Then please, stay safe, princess. Don't make me so worried every time."
"That... that's not fair. I worry about you too. I was so worried, that you might not wake up. I kept telling myself that I should have gone with you, even if you disagree."
Tears spill onto the ground, they have been for a while now. How troublesome, for my sommoner to be so emotional. I wouldn't be able to fight if I constantly worry about my creatures each time I send out my creature to battle you know.
"You have to be stronger than this. You're going to be the ruler of this kingdom, aren't you? You have to stay strong and believe in me, believe in us. We're the Champions you've summoned aren't we? As the summoner, you have to believe, believe that we can get the job done."
Here I go again, spewing nonsense and things I don't believe in. I wonder if this is how parents feel when they lie to their kids. It's probably not a good thing, but I need her to be strong, I need her to be better than I, myself, can be. It's only going to get harder from now on after all.
"Princess, believe in us. We'll save your kingdom, we'll save this world."
Even if I have to spew lies upon lies, I'll keep her going. So long as she keeps moving onwards, she'll arrive somewhere eventually and I hope wherever she arrives at, it'll be a good place.
Hearing my words, the princess nods hesitantly. Perhaps she doubts me, perhaps she doubts her own ability to keep on believing. Still, so long as she trusts in my words even if just a little, then hopefully, they can become her strength to find a way forward.
End of Chapter 35